Egypt struck a conciliatory mood at the just ended Nile Council of Ministers' 21st meeting in Juba, South Sudan.
The country’s representatives retreated from President Mohamed Morsy’s inflammatory remarks earlier on Monday, that had suggested that Cairo was ready to go to war over Ethiopia’s 6,000MW Renaissance Dam.
“Egypt has never been and will never be against the development of our brothers in the Nile Basin countries as long as this process doesn’t impact Egypt’s water security or hinder the spirit of co-operation,” Egypt’s Minister for Water Resources Mohamed Bahaa El Din said in a statement delivered on his behalf.
Despite both Egypt and Ethiopia being members of the Council, the tiff between the two was not on the official agenda, but the meeting was nevertheless held in the shadow of a standoff over the mega power project as the two protagonists faced off with pointed opening statements, in which each pleaded their case.
Ethiopia’s Minister for Water and Energy Alemayehu Tegenu reminded the meeting that, “Ethiopia has participated genuinely in all co-operative processes that can lead to equitable and reasonable utilisation and benefit from our common resources.”
Attended by ministers for water from host South Sudan, Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and representatives from Egypt, Sudan, Tanzania and Kenya, virtually all speakers urged dialogue in the current standoff over the Renaissance Dam.
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“There have been a few misunderstandings between some Nile Basin states over use of the Nile waters. As a family brought together by a common resource, we need to always ensure that such issues are resolved through dialogue rather than resorting to outrage in the media. We did not condemn Egypt because it became clear that they regretted the statements that have triggered these tensions. And there is no threat of war over the Renaissance Dam because Egypt knows it cannot possibly fight all the upstream countries,” said Paul Mayom Akec, the new Nile-COM chair and South Sudan’s Minister for Water Resources and Irrigation.
The meeting approved a $3.8 million budget to facilitate the Nile Basin Initiative Secretariat for the financial year ending June 2014.
Established in 1999, the Nile Basin Initiative is a regional intergovernmental forum for co-operative development of the River Nile.
Egypt’s realisation that war over the Nile waters was likely to be unpopular and unattainable, coupled with the realisation dawning on Ethiopia that it cannot afford to antagonise a key trading partner, may have led the two countries to embrace a peaceful approach to the Nile water dispute.
The thawing in rhetoric from the two protagonists is likely to be well-received in a war-weary region that was becoming increasingly edgy over the developing spat, with the growing spectre of East African states being sucked into the conflict and forced to take sides.
Although Uganda and the highlands of Ethiopia are acknowledged as the main sources of the Nile, all the countries of the region, including Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, serve as part of a wide feeder network for Lake Victoria.